CHICAGO - A man who idolized American born Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh and a Jordanian national who frequented extremist Web sites are charged in unrelated cases after attempting to detonate what they thought were bombs outside an Illinois courthouse and a Texas skyscraper, federal officials said.
Federal officials said Thursday that the cases are not connected to each other or the major terrorism investigation under way in Colorado and New York.
Michael C. Finton, 29, who also went by the name Talib Islam, was arrested Wednesday in Springfield, Ill., after federal officials said he attempted to set off explosives in a van outside a federal courthouse in the Illinois capital.
Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, 19, was arrested Thursday in Dallas after federal officials said he placed what he believed to be a car bomb in a parking garage beneath the 60-story Fountain Place office tower.
In both cases, decoy devices were provided to the men by FBI agents posing as al-Qaida operatives. Both men are charged with trying to detonate a weapon of mass destruction and face up to life in prison if convicted. Finton also is charged with one count of attempting to murder federal officers or employees.
Finton appeared in federal court in Springfield on Thursday and said he was an unmarried, part-time cook at a fish and chicken restaurant in the central Illinois city of Decatur. He was ordered held pending action by a grand jury. A message was left at the office of his attorney, Robert Scherschlight, a federal defender.
Smadi, who federal prosecutors said lived and worked in the north central Texas town of Italy, was to appear in court Friday. Court documents did not list a defense attorney.
Finton had been closely monitored by federal agents including an FBI special officer who posed as a low-level al-Qaida operative in the months leading up to his arrest, according to a federal affidavit in his case.
The affidavit said the officer on Wednesday presented Finton with a van containing materials he described as explosive but which actually were harmless. The two men parked the van at the courthouse and close to the office of U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., which Finton allegedly hoped also would be damaged.
They then drove a short distance to where Finton twice used a cell phone to try to detonate the explosives, the affidavit said. He was arrested immediately.
A similar scenario played out Thursday in Texas, where the FBI had been keeping tabs on Smadi since an undercover agent discovered him in an online extremists group, according to an affidavit in that case that did not specify a date.
"He stood out based on his vehement intention to actually conduct terror attacks in the United States," FBI supervisory special agent Thomas Petrowski wrote in the affidavit.
Three undercover agents communicated and met with Smadi over several months, posing as members of an al-Qaida sleeper cell, according to the court documents. They allege he discussed targeting military recruiting centers, credit card companies, the airport or an armory before settling on a building containing a bank branch.
Agents provided Smadi with what he believed was a car bomb but was actually an inert device, according to Petrowski's affidavit.
Smadi drove to Dallas on Thursday, parked his vehicle in a garage beneath the targeted office tower and set the device's timer, Petrowski's affidavit said. Smadi met up again with the agent, who drove several blocks away and Smadi dialed a cell phone in an attempt to detonate the car bomb, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit in the Illinois case traced two years of activities by Finton. It said Finton's parole on a previous conviction was revoked in August 2007 and writings found at the time included reference to a letter to Lindh, who was captured fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan. The affidavit said Finton later told police and agents that he idolized Lindh, who is now in prison.
Public records show Finton was in an Illinois prison from 1999 until 2005 after being convicted of aggravated robbery and aggravated battery. After getting out, Finton told his parole officer he had converted to Islam, the affidavit said.
The affidavit said Finton's bank records showed that in March 2008 he received a wire transfer of $1,375.14 from "Asala Hussain Abiba" in Saudi Arabia and the next day sent the money to a travel agency. It said that April, he went on a monthlong trip to Saudi Arabia.
In later talks with a paid FBI informant, Finton allegedly expressed an intense interest in the commando-style assault carried out by extremists that killed 166 people in Mumbai, India, late last year.
"Finton stated that all the 'brothers' need that type of training," the affidavit said.
The informant introduced Finton to the FBI special officer posing as an al-Qaida officer in February, the affidavit said.
The affidavit said Finton spent months looking for a U.S. target before settling on the Paul Findley Federal Office Building and Courthouse. He also said Schock's nearby congressional office could be a "secondary target," the affidavit said.
Associated Press writers Anabelle Garay and Terry Wallace in Dallas, Texas, and David Mercer in Champaign, Ill., contributed to this report.